The AFC West is one of two divisions which every team has a .500 record or better heading into Week 12, making every divisional matchup crucial as November comes to a close. The Los Angeles Chargers and Denver Broncos are each within two games of the Kansas City Chiefs in a wide-open race with seven weeks to play -- squaring off for the first time this year.
Denver is 5-0 this season when holding its opponent under 17 points. The Broncos are 0-5 when they allow 17-plus points, making this divisional showdown intriguing against a Chargers squad that has scored 17-plus points in nine of 10 games this year. The Broncos have won seven of the last eight meetings in Denver, but the Chargers are 5-1 on the road since Week 15 of last season.
Will the Broncos slow down the Chargers' offense? Can Los Angeles continue its success on the road? Here's a preview of the AFC West showdown:
How to watch
Justin Herbert against zone coverage
Herbert's numbers when facing zone coverage are better than when he's facing man, but it would be wise for the Broncos to go in man the majority of this game. The Broncos line up in man coverage on 43% of their defensive snaps and 52% in zone coverage, which is the second-most even split in the NFL. That's good news for Denver against Herbert, who is better in zone than against man.
Herbert has completed 71% of his passes in zone coverage, averaging 8.0 yards per attempt. He's thrown for nine touchdown to four interceptions with a 99.3 passer rating. In man coverage, Herbert has completed just 59% of his passes and averaged just 7.0 yards per attempt. He's thrown five touchdowns to three interceptions for an 83.5 passer rating.
If the Broncos go to zone the majority of this game, Herbert may easily pick them apart.
Chargers vs. Broncos in third-down defense
The Chargers offense has one of the best third-down conversion rates in the NFL, as Los Angeles ranks sixth in third-down conversion percentage at 45%.Denver has one of the worst third-down conversion rates in the league, allowing 44% of third downs to be converted (sixth-worst in the league).
Advantage goes to the Chargers in converting third downs -- just looking at the numbers. The Chargers have the second-worst third down defense in the league, allowing 47% of third downs to be converted by opposing offenses. Fortunately for Los Angeles, Denver has converted just only 35% of their third-down chances, the fifth-lowest rate in the NFL.
These situations are where the Chargers have the upper hand against the Broncos.
The Broncos will have to stop Austin Ekeler in the running game in order to have a shot at beating the Chargers, especially since the last game Denver played it allowed 216 rushing yards to Philadelphia. Ekeler is averaging 4.7 yards per carry this season, which is seventh-most among RBs with 100-plus carries. He has a tackle avoidance rate of 28% (sixth-highest among qualified running backs) and averages 3.1 yards post contact per rush (ninth-most among qualified running backs).
Denver has allowed 4.4 yards per carry, 11th-highest in the NFL. Their opposing running backs have a 28% tackle avoidance rate (15th-lowest in the NFL) and average 2.9 yards post contact per rush (10th-highest in the NFL). If Denver can slow down Ekeler, it has a chance to win this one.
Both Herbert and Ekeler will be a tall task to slow down, even against a good aggressive defense. Denver may not have the offensive firepower to keep up.
Score: Chargers 27, Broncos 20